After winning the Michael Powell award for Best British Feature at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan has been ever-present in the documentary sphere.
Here is a thoroughly experimental documentary, lacking in virtually all known shapes of narrative, that has been given visible acceptance and praise by a recognised panel of purportedly knowledgable figures.
It’s a remarkable feat, though having now seen the film not one I am entirely convinced by.
Set aboard a commercial fishing vessel in the North Atlantic sea, the footage is shot from various parts of the equipment and rigging, filling the frame with a kinetic energy designed to replicate the ship’s movements.
There’s no doubting that Leviathan is an impressive experiment. To completely cast aside any recognisable filmic form presents the audience with an unknown quantity, and while there will be those who appreciate the endeavour, many will find it a demanding experience, particularly commercial audiences.
I found myself wavering between the two mind-sets, at times impressed, at other times bored. The film is sold as an immersive experience, and while it is visually arresting, the core lack of discernible story and sheer length of individual scenes is attention-stalling if rhythmic.
Several lines of plot become apparent during the 87-minute run time, though none stick around long enough to gel conclusively. Clearly we are over-fishing these waters, and that fact is replicated effectively by the bloody and, it has to be said, disturbing image of a thousand fish, wrapped tightly in netting, slowly dying amongst themselves. At another point, the camera lingers on a solitary beer can caught amongst the produce, framing our casual tarnishing of our oceans.
Despite the evident issues, namely a lack of entertainment, Leviathan is a commendable effort to create something new. It has flaws, but the filmmakers are very aware of them and chose to create their work in that exact fashion. The fact that it has been so applauded proves its worth, and it should continue to be appreciated.